‘Repayment Of Training Costs’ Contract May Be Invalid

The Los Angeles Police Department requires that all newly hired police officers attend and graduate from the Los Angeles Police Academy. In the early 1990s, the City realized that many officers who graduated from the academy were leaving within a few years to join other law enforcement agencies.

The City sought to find a way to curtail the attrition by enacting Los Angeles Administrative Code Section 4.1700, which provides that any police officer is required to reimburse the City a prorated portion of the cost of training at the academy if he or she voluntarily leaves the LAPD after serving less than 60 months following graduation and goes to work for another law enforcement agency within one year after terminating employment with the LAPD. The code also provides that upon application for a job as a police officer, the applicant shall sign an agreement stating that he or she intends to maintain employment with the LAPD for at least 60 continuous months and agreeing to reimburse the City for the direct and indirect costs of training if he or she leaves the LAPD within five years after graduation and becomes employed by another law enforcement agency within one year after leaving the LAPD.

When the City sued a group of 43 former officers of the LAPD seeking reimbursement of training costs, the California Court of Appeals had to decide whether the City’s code violated Section 2802 of California’s state labor code, a section of which provides: “An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties.”

The Court began by reciting the position of California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement that “the most important aspect of licensure is that it is required by the state or locality as a result of public policy. It is the employee who must be licensed and unless there is a specific statute which requires the employer to assume part of the cost, the cost of licensing must be borne by the employee. There may be situations, however, where licensure is not actually required by statute or ordinance but the employer requires either the training or the licensing (or both) simply as a requirement of employment. In that case, the provisions of the Labor Code would require the employer to reimburse the cost.”

The Court agreed with the Division’s view, but took a more nuanced position: “It is established that the broad purpose of the Labor Code is to require an employer to bear all of the costs inherent in conducting its business and to indemnify employees from costs incurred in the discharge of their duties for the employer’s benefit. It is consistent with this purpose to require that where an individual must, as a matter of law, have a license to carry out the duties of his or her employment, the employee must bear the cost of obtaining the license. It is also consistent with this purpose to require an employer to bear the cost of training which is not required to obtain the license but is intended solely to enable the employee to discharge his or her duties.”

Turning to LAPD’s training cost-reimbursement requirement, the Court found: “We conclude that basic POST certification training is not employer-mandated training and is an expense which is to be borne by the individual officer. Local police agencies may, however, establish standards for selection and training of peace officers which exceed the minimum standards established by the POST commission.

“The City emphasized that its academy provides training in excess of the basic POST training that is available through community colleges. The department-required training addresses, in part, challenges that are present within the City of Los Angeles such as crime occurrences, crime patterns, crime trends that are specific to the City. Such training, which is not required by statute or public policy but is rather instituted purely to satisfy the needs of the City, is an expense which the City must bear.

“Accordingly, the Labor Code precludes the City from requiring recruits to reimburse it for the cost of the portion of the training which is in excess of that required for basic POST certification. And, the City cannot avoid application of the Labor Code by requiring recruits to enter into a contract to repay training costs. A contract which purports to waive the protection of Labor Code is void.

“Because there is no evidence in the record which permits apportionment of the cost of academy training between basic POST training and the department-mandated training, we will remand the matter for further proceedings to address whether the City is entitled to recoup the cost of POST certification training from any of the defendants. This would include the questions whether the City can require recruits who do not have a current POST certificate to undergo POST training at its academy and whether the City can require recruits who do have a current POST certificate to repeat POST training at the academy.”

In re Acknowledgement Cases, 2015 WL 3537239 (Cal. App. 2015).